When BMG and Sea Gayle Music Publishing decided to embark on their first music co-publishing partnership, it was a hard-working trio from California that sealed the deal.
The trio, Leaving Austin, released their new EP, Southern Gold, last week. Previously, the trio independently released the track “Nothing But You,” which earned more than 1 million streams. The trio’s independently-released EPs, Leaving Austin and That Feel Good, have over 3.5 million streams to date.
Central Valley, California natives Mike Stevens and Davis Forney began playing together in a church youth worship band. They met Austin Machado through mutual friends.
“We all hit it off. Had the same interests and started writing songs together and it’s been almost 10 years now,” Mike tells MusicRow. “We were really involved in the Christian alternative world for a long time. Guys like Phil Wickham, guys like that, those were huge influences. I remember with the youth worship band, we were always trying to write or recreate a worship song that was our version. We were always finding ways to do that.”
The trio began incorporating lyrics into their songs that drew from their rural California upbringing, eventually forming Leaving Austin.
“It’s all farming towns,” Mike says of the group’s origins. “The activities are all country music—what country music talks about. Literally being out in a farm. Our parties were on the rich kids’ farms. That’s where we went to party. It was like house parties and clubs.”
Much like the trio itself, the band’s name came about organically.
“We were trying to come up with [a name] for probably a week or so,” remembers Austin. “We were hanging out at my house one day, and then he left. Someone called him and asked, ‘Where are you at?’ He said, ‘I’m leaving Austin’s.’ The name just stuck.”
Given that Austin shares a name with a famous music-centric town in Texas, he says it’s often assumed they are from the Lone Star State.
“We get that all the time. Literally every time we play,” Austin notes. “I’m about to just start saying, ‘Yeah, we’re from there,’” he laughs.
They began making regular monthly trips to Nashville to begin co-writing and meeting people in the Nashville music community. They made the most of those trips, often writing nearly 20 songs in a two-week trip.
Chris DuBois, a partner at Sea Gayle Music and songwriter who has penned hits including the recent Chris Janson chart-toppers “Fix A Drink” and “Buy Me A Boat,” remembers first meeting the members of Leaving Austin during a co-write.
“I got a call to do a co-write with them, but I remember with them being from California, I was under the impression they were not a country band. So I showed up for the write, and I was really impressed with them. We wrote two songs that day, and it was very obvious to me that the guys were not only real songwriters but they had a vision for who they were as artists.”
DuBois was so taken with the group’s abilities and work ethic that when he had a writing session cancellation happen the next day, he booked them in that slot. DuBois brought the songs to Jake Gear, who was then Creative Director at Sea Gayle Music.
“When I played the stuff for the creative staff, Jake in particular just really got excited about it. We took it from there, we reached out to their management, asked if they had any publishing situation open. We started engaging with them and helping them set up direct when they came in town.”
“At Sea Gayle, we became kind of a little home base,” DuBois says. “We plugged them in to as many public writers as we could, help plug them in with other writers outside of Sea Gayle, and we’re just very impressed not only with how talented they were obviously in the room and the vision they had as an artist but the dedication that they had to be living in California to devote the amount of time to coming in, they were coming in regularly to Nashville once every six weeks or so but they wouldn’t just come for a couple of days, they’d come for a couple of weeks.”
Gear adds, “And that’s not something that you see that often when you have somebody who lives in another city, so even without a publisher supporting them and offering them infrastructure, they were already dedicated to the process. I was very impressed with Zach Kelm, their manager. We really hit it off with him.”
Eventually, Gear was offered the opportunity to become Sr. Creative Director at BMG. He took the job, but was determined to find a way to continue working with Leaving Austin.
“I was so excited about the guys and when I was transitioning to BMG, I was getting to the point where I feel like me and Chris were about to have the conversation about bringing those guys on. I still wanted to be part of their career. I first heard their songs a year before I moved to BMG.”
Those discussions led to a co-publishing partnership between BMG and Sea Gayle Music
“In most partnerships you have a creative team that partners with a corporation,” notes Gear. “And a corporation really is just funding and operation and not necessarily providing a lot of creative services. This is different, where Sea Gayle and BMG are partnering not just for funding, but for creative services and working hand in hand together.”
“That’s what makes this unique. Jake was an integral part of the creative part at Sea Gayle for a long time and we’re both excited to continue that relationship,” DuBois adds. “What really excited us was, not only do we get to work with Leaving Austin but also get the opportunity to work with Jake.”
The six-song EP, Southern Gold, features several producers and co-writers including Brock Berryhill, Blake Bollinger, Justin Ebach, Jimmy Robbins, and Colby Wedgeworth (who originally introduced the trio to their manager Zach Kelm). The trio had close to 90 songs penned by the time it came to narrow down song choices for the project.
“Blake [Bollinger] did two tracks and he was just in love with those tracks. Brock loved these two tracks, so they really got to put themselves into what they wanted, which is always better than being forced to produce something they don’t love. Then obviously the writers loved the songs that we created with them and so then producing it, they were just fired up to do it.”
The trio co-wrote their current single, “Into It” with Chase McGill and Paul DiGiovanni.
“I think I had a title called ‘I’m In’ and Chase was like, “Well, what if it was ‘Into It’ as a title?’ Then he literally spilled off eight lines,” says Davis. “He came up with the immediate idea out of that and we were just like, “Dude. This is legit.” It’s one of our favorite songs to play live for sure right now.”
Some songs from their catalog, such as “American Avenue,” have gained interest from other artists.
“Almost every time we play the song, someone messages us, ‘How can I get the song?’” notes Austin. “There was another one we wrote with Nathan Chapman, called ‘Hi Girl.’ Everybody asked about that one.”
With ambitions including going for additions on streaming playlists and label deal offers, Gear and DuBois have already had introductory talks with some label reps about the trio.
“We are hopeful the EP will offer more opportunities for them to play on the road and increase their fanbase,” says DuBois. “We are hopeful that will engage with streaming services, get some good playlist placements. We have to have a game plan that’s not completely reliant on the bigger labels but we are also mindful of the fact that the big picture involves eventually partnering with a major label.”
“We’re gonna be keeping the major labels informed but labels these days are monitoring from a distance. They’re wanting to see how music responds with the listeners,” DuBois adds. “They’re keeping their eyes on streaming numbers, ticket sold out on the road and so we’re gonna be trying to do everything that we can to work in conjunction with their booking agent, creating opportunities on the road and just getting these songs in a place where people can hear them.”
The trio has plenty more music to draw from for future releases.
“Instead of going, ‘Hey. Here’s 15 songs we’ve been working on,’ we’re releasing six that we’re really, really excited about, that this town is really excited about, and hopefully they do really well. Then we can come back with more,” Austin says.
“I would love to drop all 100 songs today if we could,” quips Mike.
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